The article by the student under the pseudonym Putnick (Traveler)
I have no doubts that everyone has encountered a feeling of resentment or interacted with offended individuals. Why is it so hard to work out hard feelings? Why don’t people let go of the triggering situation and make up for their pain by forgiving the offender? Forgiveness implies that the offender is in fact an asshole yet I forgive him and by this, I bespeak his meanness and my generosity of spirit. Why does even a “forgiven” resentment still reminds us of itself in one way or another, fill out our hearts with venom, poison our thoughts, and at times even call for vengeance?
It is relatively rare for people to experience resentment toward those whom they barely know, and if they do, it usually does not last long and ends up with an expression of anger or repression thereof. We hold grudges, deep ones, towards people with whom we interact closely and for a long time. It is these people specifically that we spend the time designing our relationships with – unconsciously, almost reflexively, or au contraire, consciously, perhaps following recommendations by psychologists. Our relatives, colleagues at different levels of work hierarchies, friends, and of course, loved ones – present and used-to-be ones. The closer these people are to us the more we are prone to resent them.
For the most part, we are looking for a conflict-free, comfortable co-existence with those around us. The term comfortable suggests but is not limited to, being respectful, acknowledging our accomplishments, and giving love, if possible. We use a quid pro quo principle for building relationships with our inner circle, investing our energy, care, time, maybe love, and very often resources – presents, money, etc.. And we do all this “out of the goodness of our hearts”, as they say. Or else, we purposefully sacrifice our personal interests and act in a way that is uncomfortable for us and requires extra effort which produces a breeding ground for self-pity going forward. We also expect that the person is capable to appreciate our efforts, the way we feel about him and will respond in kind. The more we “invest” in a relationship, the higher the threshold of our expectations, and the more attention we seek to receive. That is how the gap between our expectations and reality is formed. The banality of this situation is that our ego vastly overestimates the value of our efforts and equally underestimates the value of attention that we have received as if we don’t mind getting some dividends rather than the bare return of our “investments”. The mind starts to tally what and how much we did for this person and what he did in return – and in no time anger ignites, because of all the injustice and unappreciation. We are not ready to express our discontent openly, afraid of damaging our relationship, and pay the price by turning away our eyes, filled with splashing anger.
Quite often our own response results from mind conditioning and thus leads to resentment. For example, as a child, we learned that extra effort is rewarded with higher praise and now as an adult, we readily step in to undertake heavy workloads in the hope of a promotion or better compensation. Whereupon the boss hires an outsider for the managerial position. From our point of view, this is a piece of utter injustice and a straightforward justification for resentment. From the point of view of the boss though, this is an opportunity to return a favor to a valuable acquaintance of his without detriment to the business, because the incompetency of a new manager will be balanced with a strong performance of an experienced employee.
So, what would be the best way to work out old resentments that are still alive? Given that the cause of resentment is our unfulfilled expectations, we should figure out the unfulfilled desire hidden behind these expectations. At the same time, we keep in mind that intense emotional leitmotiv and antagonistic frame of mind around the situation that stirred resentment will interfere with our unbiased vision of this situation. Anger has to be expressed, and the mind should refrain from indulging in self-pity and bookkeeper-like “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. For many of us, the technical exercise of expressing anger toward dear ones presents an unsurmountable obstacle because of the inner ban and fear for their wellbeing. Many of us believe that when we start to express anger, it will get aggravated. Fair enough, when you give yourself permission to express anger, you see that it does grow larger. But this is due to the repressed energy resuming its natural state and expanding beyond the boundaries of the physical body and an emerging sensation that you are inside this emotional energy. What would you prefer then – to let out the built-up repressed energy and feel the lightness of freedom from it or to continue to repress it until your reach the point when you are about to beat up or smother him? As soon as the pressure of anger is released and the mind settles down in meditation or muraqabah, an opportunity opens to take a look across the whole situation while staying detached, not identified with it, and to see the cause of desire which stayed unfulfilled and thus produced a resentment feeling.
If you have realized that the triggering situation was brought about by your conditioning, it is time to search for the cause that gives this conditioning the power to manipulate you. There is a particular desire or fear that fuels this conditioning. For example, you realize that you sacrifice your personal interests for a vague chance of receiving an equal share because you are forced by a desire to have a family. As you keep looking, you see that the origin is rooted in childhood, your upbringing, and later you were prompted to pursue the same line of thinking, that is, you were conditioned. But the actual reasons that allowed this conditioning to hold on tightly to you may vary: a desire to be like others, a fear of left being alone, a desire to have a stable relationship, a fear of disapproval, a desire to have support, etc. When you figure out the desire or fear and work it out, you alleviate or even eliminate the gravity of conditioning, and going forward will be able to make independent decisions in favor of your or the other side’s interests, depending on the situation.
What exactly makes the unresolved resentment so damaging, aside from repressed anger? Resentment affects our ego, and the most painful part is that we hold hard feelings toward dear ones. We believe they treat us absolutely unfairly. Self-pity makes the pain worse and we are not ready to look at our problems unbiasedly. Our mind keeps rolling down into blaming the opposite side. We keep on chewing upon the resentment, forbidding ourselves even to turn a gaze that way; this is how a vast dark area is formed within the ego, the area with which we are not ready to work.
As we work out and resolve resentment and causes thereof, we come to see that our “investments” in relationships secure no feeling of stability which we’ve been craving for, and are always located in a risk zone – people get together and get separated, get closer, then move apart, and not always do they act in line with our desires, more often they are manipulated by their conditioning and egos. But we will learn to follow the commandment “do not forget with whom you are dealing”. This does not suggest that we should ignore others or cease communicating with them. This means that relationships cease to be manacles put around our legs, our dependence upon approval or disapproval is dropped, and we are free to make our choices. We do what we can for a person and wait for no acknowledgment in response.
The energy that previously was spent on building and supporting relationships and associated emotional turmoil can now be put into efforts on the Path to God, who gives true support to the seeker, as well as true contentment. Life among people can be lived without expectations, hopes, and resentment. Without all these things that ego feeds upon and which, strictly speaking, are the reason for its existence.